Girl on horseback, woman killed in Dixie crash
Published: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 8:24 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 8:24 a.m.
Dixie County on Wednesday was dealing with a double tragedy — the deaths of a longtime school custodian and a 10-year-old girl who were hit by a motorist while the woman was leading the girl on a horse across a road Tuesday night.
Killed were Minnie Melba Delaney, 86, of the Old Town area, and her neighbor, Emma Maria Mercado, 10, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
"It's just a tragedy," said Dixie County School Superintendent Mark Rains. "Miss Melba had kind of taken the girl under her wing. From what I hear, the girl would come over from time to time and Miss Melba would lead her around on a horse."
Delaney was a longtime custodian in Dixie County schools while Emma and her parents had only recently moved to the county, said law enforcement and school officials.
The accident happened about 6:08 p.m. on Dixie County Road 55A just south of Old Town. Delaney was leading the horse across the road with Emma on it. They were hit by John Henry Mash, 39, driving a 2002 Ford Windstar minivan eastbound, FHP reported.
Delaney died at the scene while Emma was airlifted to Shands at the University of Florida in critical condition. She died at 12:07 a.m. Wednesday, FHP reported.
FHP Sgt. Tracy Pace said Delaney and Emma were neighbors. She added that the horse also was killed.
Mash told FHP he did not see the horse when he was driving.
"It was dark. They were crossing into his path and he saw a flash," Pace said. "There was no speeding involved. He submitted to a voluntary blood test but they do not suspect impairment."
Charges are pending the outcome of the investigation.
Delaney had been a custodian at Dixie County High School before retiring more than a decade ago, Rains said.
Emma enrolled in Old Town Elementary School shortly after Thanksgiving. Rains and Dixie County sheriff's Maj. Scott Harden said they believe her parents had moved to the county from North Carolina.
Harden said a 17-year-old sister of Emma was still in North Carolina and having difficulty making it to Florida on a train because her photo identification is with her mother in Dixie County.
Harden added he remembered Delaney from her work at the school.
"She was always doing something. She had cows and horses, and was always working with livestock, even when she was at the school," Harden said.
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